By GEOFF MULVIHILL and DAVID A. LIEB
A federal judge on Tuesday blocked President Joe Biden’s administration from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees of federal contractors, the latest in a string of victories for Republican-led states pushing back against Biden’s pandemic policies.
U.S. District Court Judge R. Stan Baker, in Augusta, Georgia, issued a stay to bar enforcement of the mandate nationwide.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Associated Builders and Contractors contended its participation in the legal challenge of the mandate for federal contractors will provide the “construction industry relief, which would otherwise have been limited to the states that sued.” The ABC noted it was the only private business group to take part in the suit, which was initiated by seven states — Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia.
“This is a big win in removing compliance hurdles for the construction industry, which is facing economic challenges, such as a workforce shortage of 430,000, rising materials prices and supply chain issues,” said Ben Brubeck, ABC spokesman. “ABC continues to support vaccinations and encourages members to use its COVID-19 vaccination toolkit, resources and guidance for federal contractors to keep workers safe on construction jobsites.”
Because the ABC has members who do business throughout the U.S., the order — handed down by U.S. District Court Judge R. Stan Baker, in Augusta, Georgia — applies nationally. Baker found that the states mounting the legal challenge were likely to succeed in their claim that Biden exceeded authorization granted by Congress when he issued the mandate in September.
“The Court acknowledges the tragic toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought throughout the nation and the globe,” wrote the judge, an appointee of former President Donald Trump. “However, even in times of crisis this Court must preserve the rule of law and ensure that all branches of government act within the bounds of their constitutionally granted authorities.”
A White House spokeswoman said the Justice Department would continue to defend the mandate.
“The reason that we proposed these requirements is that we know they work, and we are confident in our ability, legally, to make these happen across the country,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at Tuesday’s briefing.
A federal judge in Kentucky also had issued a preliminary injunction against the mandate last week, but it applied only to contractors in three states that had sued together — Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.
Biden’s executive order required federal contractors and subcontractors to comply with workplace-safety guidelines developed by a federal task force. That task force subsequently issued guidelines calling for new, renewed or extended contracts to contain a clause requiring employees to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 18. That meant those receiving a two-dose vaccine had to have their second shot by Jan. 4.
A few exceptions were allowed for medical or religions reasons. The requirements would have applied to millions of employees of federal contractors.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, said in a Twitter message that the ruling will provide relief to workers “who were in fear of being forced to choose between this vaccine and their livelihood.”
Other Republican officials also praised the court ruling. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said the mandate was “just an outrageous overreach by the federal government.”
With Tuesday’s ruling, all three of Biden’s broad vaccine mandates affecting the private sector have been put on hold by courts. Judges already issued a stay regarding one that applies to businesses with 100 or more employees and another for health-care workers.
Separately, Biden has imposed vaccine requirements for employees of the federal government and for the military.
The mandates are a central part of the administration’s plan to stop the spread of COVID-19, which has killed more than 788,000 Americans since last year.